Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Dinner Theater is alive and well in southwest Ohio. For many years, La Comedia Dinner Theatre has combined fine food with professional musicals to the delight of its many patrons. Typically, La Comedia presents a good mix of newer works such as the Yeston/Kopit Phantom and safe, traditional musicals such as Hello Dolly. Their 2001 season starts with some of both, a safe newer piece, Honky Tonk Angels, from the creator of Always ... Patsy Cline, is described as a "salute to the women of country music".
Honky Tonk Angels follows the journey of three women who are fed up with their lives and set out to chase their dreams of becoming country music stars. They meet on a bus on their way to Nashville where they strike up a friendship and decide to pursue their dream together as a trio. The show uses many country music classics by artists such as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and Willie Nelson. In the first act, the songs are used effectively to provide the background for each woman and show why they want to leave their unsatisfactory lives. These ladies are either fed up with their drunken husbands, feel limited by their overbearing widowed fathers, or can no longer take the abusive of a harassing boss. Act Two shows the ladies in performance in Nashville and is less successful in sustaining a strong book to the show. The songs are now merely performance pieces and there is little furtherance of plot or character development. The second act is basically a country music concert. Act One ends with the women arriving in Nashville with just a dream. The plot would be better served if the last half of the show had been written to show the struggles and triumphs of the women to make it in the business with a shorter performance section at the end.
The company assembled by La Comedia is up to the usually high standards achieved by the dinner theater. The three-person cast, consisting of Leslie Jo Bissett, Monique Kennon-Novotny, and Devan Lee Thompson, are very well-suited to their roles. The characters could easily have been performed as one-dimensional cartoon characters, but these fine actresses and singers bring an added level of depth to them. They also bring energy and enthusiasm to the show and interact well with the audience.
Ms. Bissett also serves as Director and Choreographer of the piece and deserves praise. The first act has a strong theatrical feel to it and the entire show flows well. The vocal arrangement is enjoyable, but the arrangements played by the talented five-piece country band seem repetitive. The sets, costumes, and lighting are all appropriate and effective.
La Comedia Dinner Theatre has done a good, professional job with presenting this musical. However, Honky Tonk Angels is a flawed piece. Country music lovers will have a great time and general theatergoers will find much to like. The show (as written) is an example of an idea which is, at first, well executed, but which eventually and unfortunately takes the easy way out. Honky Tonk Angels continues through March 11, 2001 and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.
-- Scott Cain